TNI Analysis: 10 reasons BJP lost Karnataka

| Updated: 13 May, 2023 7:33 pm IST

On Saturday, the Congress party emerged victorious in the southern battleground, bringing an end to the BJP’s winning streak and dethroning the saffron party from its stronghold in the South.

This significant win couldn’t have come at a better time for the Grand Old Party, as it needed a boost of triumphs, strategic social engineering, and its tried-and-tested formula of Muslim appeasement to strengthen its prospects in the upcoming General Elections.

Despite the widespread popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the presence of several cabinet ministers, including Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Suresh Angadi, Shobha Karandlaje, and Bhagwanth Khuba, as well as influential leaders like BJYM chief Tejasvi Surya and BL Santosh within the BJP’s decision-making echelons, the party failed to identify and counter all the ammunition effectively utilized by the Congress.

Here are ten key points highlighting the reasons behind the BJP’s inability to neutralize the Congress’ strategy.

1.BJP did nothing to counter allegations of corruption against Bommai

Our ground reports revealed that corruption is a major concern for the people of Karnataka. The PayCM and rate card campaigns gained momentum, shedding light on this issue. Unfortunately, the BJP’s response to these allegations was ineffective as they chose to file a defamation case against Rahul Gandhi, Shivakumar, and Siddaramaiah regarding ‘corruption rate card’ ads. This defensive approach weakened their position, failing to counter the corruption narrative effectively. Even though Bommai highlighted his humble upbringing and austere lifestyle in an interview given to The New Indian, the BJP failed to establish this image in the minds of voters. In 2019, when PM Narendra Modi faced the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ jibe, BJP launched the ‘main bhi chowkidaar’ campaign which resonated in the Hindi heartland. During his rally in Western UP, despite the BSP-SP alliance, Modi assured the audience, ‘aap aswast rahiye, appka yeh chaukidaar chaukanna hai’ (Be rest assured, your watchman is vigilant). This powerful statement turned into a viral video campaign and even became a popular ringtone among BJP supporters.

If BJP had executed a similar campaign for Bommai, the party’s fate might have been different. The ‘main bhi chowkidaar’ sentiment worked wonders for PM Modi in 2019. A strategic campaign highlighting Bommai’s integrity could have made a significant impact.

2. Freebies by Congress, thrust on local issues vs BJP’s worn out Hindutva plank

In the Karnataka Assembly polls, the Congress managed to outsmart the BJP in terms of campaigning and messaging, focusing on local issues that resonated with the electorate. While the template may have been similar to the Congress’ successful campaign in Himachal Pradesh, the sentiments expressed in Karnataka touched upon emotive national issues such as corruption, the “Pay 40 CM” and rate-card controversies, the Nandini vs Amul debate, and the “Kivi Mele Hoova” campaign. By capitalizing on these issues, the Congress effectively connected with voters on a deeper level. The successful narrative of providing Rs 2000 to the head of the family (similar to the campaign in Punjab), offering 200 units of free electricity, distributing 10kg of food grains to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, and granting a scholarship of Rs 1500 to diploma holders were part of the Congress manifesto. While the Congress focused on these welfare-oriented promises, the BJP continued to ride high on Hindutva. 

3. Poor media management; lack of national or state-level troubleshooter

While Congress strategically entrusted its former communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala , who by now has ace journalists on his fast dial mode as well obliges many for “access journalism”,  to look after their campaign in Karnataka, BJP now lacks a big decent face to handle media queries. BJP even is now facing crisis in promoting its own candidates or arrange a profile tour for the national media representatives to constituencies in states ruled by them or where they are making strong bids to make a comeback.

The BJP boasts of a formidable IT cell led by Amit Malviya, who has been adroitly spearheading the party’s social media campaign, fearlessly countering opposition attacks almost singlehandedly daily and drawing a volley of slurs and anger from a section of left-wing biased media outlets as well as journalist-turned-spokespersons of Congress, DMK and TMC.

However, the saffron party’s weakness lies in its absence of a polished media coordinator or smart communication strategy similar to that employed by the likes of Jairam Ramesh and Pawan Khera in the Congress, who efficiently handle daily press interactions.

This, when both Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress, cracked the code by releasing hefty advertisements and paid campaigns to media outlets and took their journalists for FAM field trips on their development initiatives. Banning the access, under the pretext that no brokering by fixer journalists in a throwback to Nira Radia scam works, can only create an image with a shelf life but not always. BJP desperately needs an Arun Jaitley-like Man Friday to handle both adverse and pro-BJP media. UP CM Yogi Adityanath, to a large extent, has handled this, thanks to his well-wisher retired bureaucrats like Avanish Awasthi. As recent as last month, both Sachin Pilot and Deepender Hooda held massive PR exercises by inviting media representatives from both left-leaning and right-leaning outfits to their Delhi homes for future media planning ahead.

Talent spotter, troubleshooter, organisation builder—senior BJP leader B L Santhosh has tried to build a feedback system but it has not worked of late. Many in the press often joke that BJP government is a press-note sarkaar, where the government of the day relishes the reputation of blocking access to media by surprising the sudden announcements on demonetisation, Uri terror strikes, Balakot terror strikes or even secret induction of cabinet berths. This system is slowly being hated by many in the media that now has begun to refused to carry forward the restricted flow of information.

The Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh losses have only exposed that despite the Godi-media jibe by Congress, BJP has no collective counter-strategy to promote its development campaigns locally ahead of elections apart from the national narratives with just releases of banal photo-ops.

Therefore, it came as no surprise when the Left leaning media outfits like Newslaundry, The Caravan, The News Minute, The Wire and The Scroll, barely weeks before Karnataka Polls, announced a partnership as they went to drum up up support for their ideologically-similar parties and built an anti-BJP narrative that suited them and their subscribers in the southern states.

4. Turncoats fail to deliver 

Of 17 who helped BJP topple Cong-JD(S) government, 14 were given tickets. Of these as many as 8 candidates lost.

Prathapgouda Patil, Maski seat – Lost
Mahesh Kumathalli, Athani seat- Lost

Shrimant Patil, Kagwad seat- Loss
B C Patil, Hirekerur seat- Loss
Shivaram Hebbar, Yellapur seat- Won
S T Somashekar, Yeshwanthpur seat- Won
Byrathi Basavaraj, K R Pura seat- Won
K Gopalaiah, Mahalakshmi Layout seat- Won

N Muniratna, R R Nagar seat- Won
Ramesh Jarkiholi, Gokak seat- Won
Dr. K Sudhakar, Chikaballapur seat- Lost
K C Narayana Gowda, K R Pet seat- Lost
M T B Nagaraj, Hosakote seat- Lost
Anand Singh’s son Siddharth, Vijayanagar seat- Lost

5. Inability of BJP to use giants of India’s silicon valley to campaign for them 

Despite the BJP government’s recent recognition of Sudha Murthy with a Padma award and their successful organization of the first semiconductor event last year, the party’s leaders failed to actively engage with influential figures in the IT industry and leading business houses like Infosys, Wipro, MTR (a prominent ready-to-eat food company), Jockey India, Ola, and Wildcraft.

6. No solid development-oriented campaign on Bajrang Bali

The BJP’s recent campaign centered around Bajrang Bali was more of a knee jerk reaction. They portrayed Congress’ call for a ban on Bajrang Dal as an insult to Lord Hanuman, attempting to achieve maximum polarization in the final stages of the campaign by holding hawans and singing paeans to Lord Hanuman. However, the campaign by the BJP leaders like Shobha Karandraje or CM Bommai himself when they sat and read Hanuman Chalisa publically came across as an eye spectacle than the ability to turn around the campaign by announcing a fresh tourism project or flight or chopper service to the birthplace of Hanuman — Hanumanahalli (which means Hanuman’s village) in Anjanadri hills near Hampi in Karnataka.

This last-ditch effort seemed futile and lacked substance, leaving Hindus fatigued. It appeared as though Congress baited the BJP, who fell for it without objectively assessing that the appeal of Hindutva has begun to wane. Hindus of Karnataka are more inclined towards competence, welfare, development, and growth.

7. Congress used social engineering to woo OBCs, Muslims; BJP failed to build on hijab, The Kerala Story

Both the BJP and Congress strategically focused on highly emotive and communal issues leading up to the elections, aiming to polarize Hindu-Muslim votes. One of these issues was the debate surrounding the legacy of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century ruler. Varying perspectives on Tipu Sultan’s character as either a heroic figure fighting against colonial powers or a brutal king targeting Hindus and other religious communities highlighted the parties’ attempts to shape specific narratives.

While the BJP stirred controversy by questioning the circumstances of Tipu Sultan’s death, suggesting he wasn’t killed by the British, Congress leader Siddaramaiah made ambiguous references to reviving Tipu Jayanti celebrations. Both parties contributed to the polarization by making comments on topics such as hijab, anti-conversion legislation, and halal meat.

However, the BJP’s efforts at counter-polarization didn’t successfully consolidate the Hindu vote, which fractured due to caste politics. The Vokkaliga appeal of DK overshadowed that of the BJP’s candidate, while Lingayats expressed their discontent with the sidelining of Yeddyurappa.

This even as a timely-released film The Kerala Story exposed the rut of radical Muslim outfits and the underbelly of little-known 2008-onwards terror crimes involving love-jihad and trafficking of young women in south India.  Even as some BJP leaders dashed to theatres to watch the film but the insincerity of commitments by the director Vivek Agnihotri earlier film, based on similar real-life incidents, The Kashmir Files’ to either offer a portion of profit from the film for the welfare of displaced Kashmiri Pandits or visit the recent slain families in the Valley almost sank hopes of electoral benefits to the common man to look into their plight in Karnataka.


8. Too much dependence on Modi vs no grooming of Kannadiga Pride

The recent series of roadshows conducted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bengaluru during the final phase of campaigning showcased a strong emphasis on symbolism. Following his signature approach, Modi paid homage to local hero Kempegowda, the founder of Bengaluru, by offering floral tributes at his statue. The massive turnout and enthusiastic response from the attendees might have led one to believe that Modi alone could secure victory in the election. However, Brand Modi has its limits—it will not work if BJP doesn’t give good and clean governance at regional/local level, if BJP’s regional leadership is weak and corrupt and if BJP has excessive infighting at local level.

In certain instances, there were individuals who were unfamiliar with the newly appointed Chief Minister Bommai, as he was chosen over the more popular Lingayat leader Yeddyurappa as the latter faced corruption charges However, it is worth noting that even Bommai’s tenure was not without blemishes as the campaigns launched by the Congress party, highlighting corruption managed to create a certain perception about the CM.

There were no concerted efforts to whip up frenzy on how the party had put Kannadiga Pride on top by giving positions to BL Santosh, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Pralhad Joshi, Shobha Karandlaje,  BJYM chief Tejasvi Surya and CT Ravi in the national capital of Delhi.

9. Reservation for Lingayats and Vokkaligas was offered very late 

The reservation for the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities was announced a little over a month before the elections. The Bommai government decided to increase the reservation for Lingayats to seven percent and for Vokkaligas to six percent. The timing of the announcement raised questions about its strategic intent, with critics suggesting it was aimed at gaining electoral support rather than being a result of comprehensive policy-making. The decision received mixed reactions among the communities affected.

10. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra did help Congress; Modi, Shah, Nadda,

Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka actively campaigned, while the Bharat Yatra initiative energized the Congress party. The hard work of the regional INC leadership contributed to their efforts. A “Congress mukht Bharat” seems unlikely, as Indians hold a strong commitment to democracy.


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